The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: sweet potato

Sweet Potato Update

Our first crop of sweet potatoes was a major disappointment. Although the plants were extremely vigorous, they produced only a few potatoes when it came time to dig them up. In addition, their extensive root system seemed to take over the entire raised bed garden section. Next year’s crop will be grown directly in the ground rather than in the raised bed. The raised bed area is too valuable to use plants that take up so much space – especially for such a miniscule yield.

For those who think that gardening could consist of buying a can of “survival seeds” and just putting them into the ground, this is yet another example of why that’s a really bad idea. Growing food takes experimentation and experience (the redundancy was intentional).

I am confident that there is a good explanation readily available to show me just what I did wrong. I just haven’t found it yet. Sweet potatoes are an important food source crop, so I will continue experimenting until I get it right – or learn that it just isn’t going to be a viable crop for my location.

Hot Weather Crops

Here in The South, the intense summer heat limits your garden to only those few plant varieties that can truly handle the heat. Fall, Winter, and Spring gardens are when we get the nice lush growth, but with the heat and the insects it takes careful planning and selection to have a beautiful and productive garden.

This has been an especially hot and dry summer, and the stink bugs were out in force. I have long since pulled up the tomato and squash plants that just couldn’t handle the heat. Here is what I have in the garden now (July 19, 2011).

Strawberries - they are not producing fruit now, but the plants are handling the heat just fine.

Bell peppers are producing well. They turn red before they get very big, but they produce far more than we can use ourselves.

Sweet potatoes. These are doing very well. There are 4 plants in this section of the garden.

Egg plant. The fruit doesn't get very big before harvest stage, but they still produce far more than we can use.

Egg plant ready to be picked

Okra - the Summer performer. No matter how hot the weather, okra just keeps on producing. The only pest is ants, and they are a minor problem and relatively easy to control.

Sweet potato being grown in a container

ECHO Demonstration Farm

We recently visited the ECHO Demonstration Farm in Fort Myers, Florida. ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) is a great resource for those wanting to learn how to grow food in difficult conditions. This trip was focused on a missionary project in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I am vice-president of Gather The Fragments Bible Mission Church, Inc. – my wife and I provide logistical support for missionaries working to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a remote part of a very remote country – Sierra Leone. This trip to ECHO was with one of those missionaries so that she could learn more about how to improve the agriculture in that area.

ECHO publishes some excellent books. “Amaranth to Zai Holes – Ideas for Growing Food Under Difficult Conditions” is one of my favorites. While it covers problems that we in The South usually don’t face (iguanas, elephants, and monkeys are not typical garden pests here in The South), it is filled with great ideas that we can use here.

 

Guide describing the "urban garden" area. The farm is divided into different environments, and the urban garden area is build on a concrete slab.

The chickens coop in the back supplies manure, which is made into a tea, which is drip irrigated on the plants.

Wooden pallets used to build a platform that holds plastic bags of soil for plants to grow in.

Poles forming a pyramid for plants to climb on.

Extremely shallow planting. A plastic pool liner was used, along with a piece of old carpeting to grow crops in. Hay and other materials provide shade for the roots and reduce evaporation.

More shallow garden experiments. All of these are right on top of a concrete slab.

Plants growing in concrete blocks.

Sweet potatoes being grown in a stack of old tires filled with soil.

Tall poles (about 12' tall) were used to support climbing plants such as pole beans and cucumbers. The cord wrapped around gives the plants something to hold onto. The poles were supported with guy wires.

Biogas generator. This system uses manure to generate, capture, and store methane gas. The gas is stored in a truck inner tube. It is used to run a stove and lantern in this arrangement.

This is a dug well that has two pumps in it. The one being demonstrated here uses a hand crank that pulls pistons on a rope through a PVC pipe to pump the water.

This is a treadle powered pump that supplies the garden area to the left.

Huge sunflowers being grown here. These are the "Mammoth" variety.

Rice paddy demonstration. This is the traditional flood technique. Part of the reason this technique is used is to raise eels that are a delicacy in some parts of the world.

This is a newer, more efficient method of growing rice. The fields are not flooded, and other crops are planted between rice crops.

These ducks are part of a food producing ecosystem that includes micro-organisms that feed on the duck manure, and tilapia that feeds on organisms a bit higher on the food chain. The end result is meat from the fish, and eggs and meat from the ducks.

Plants being readied for their place at the ECHO farm.